Previous Challenge Entry (Level 4 – Masters)
Topic: RED (02/01/18)
By Jan Ackerson
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It happened sometimes. Men from her old life. She could see it first in their eyes, a look of recognition lighting them. Some of them looked away, red-faced, but not all of them. Hi, darlin’, they’d say. Remember me?
Of course she didn’t remember them. They always seemed to take offense at that, as if they’d been a courting couple, rather than partners in a very short business relationship.
When she brought table 9 a refill for his coffee, he looked up at her. “You’re Ruby Donne, aren’t you?”
She squinted at him while she poured. “I don’t know you, but looks like you know me. I’m a waitress now, got it?” She turned away, but he kept talking.
“I’m Coy Wilkinson. You probably don’t remember me. I was two years behind you in school.”
She stopped, heat rising into her cheeks, and turned back to him. “The preacher’s boy? Your daddy was the one who ran me out of town. That who you are?”
He shrugged. “I’m sorry about my pa. He’s not me.”
Ruby snorted. “Your daddy woulda had me wear a scarlet letter, if he could. Called me a painted harlot. Maybe you better not be seen talking to me. Might get back to his holiness.”
Coy sighed. “My pa’s not one to talk. Got a whole log cabin in his eye.”
Ruby didn’t know what to make of that, so she took the coffeepot to another table. After a few minutes filling orders, she looked back, figuring he’d be gone, but he was still there, watching. He looked down at his plate when he saw her looking at him. She sighed and walked back to him. “More coffee? Piece of pie?”
He pushed his mug toward her. “Cherry.”
When she returned with the pie, she said, “You a preacher now, too?”
He made a sound that might have been a laugh. “Nope.”
“Well, it’s a long time since high school, and fifty miles away. What brings you here, reverend?”
He put his fork down and met her eyes. “I said I’m not a preacher.”
“Fine. Well, I’m not a harlot, neither, so you can just stop staring.” She stayed put for a moment, meeting his eyes, daring him.
Coy looked away first. “I was in jail for a few years. Now I’m just a man working hard at a new life.”
Interested, Ruby glanced around at the mostly-empty restaurant, then pulled out the chair across from Coy. “What’d you do to go to jail?”
“Remember Mr. Lowell at the used car lot?” Ruby nodded, and Coy continued. “I worked there after high school, just helping out. Washed the cars, checked the tires, that sort of thing. Didn’t pay much, though, so I watched him at the safe a few times and memorized the numbers. He walked in on me when I was pulling out a handful of cash. Caught red-handed.”
Ruby laughed. “Well, aren’t we the pair? Me with my scarlet letter, and you caught red-handed. Isn’t that something else?” She leaned forward. “Listen, I gotta get back to work. Real nice talking with you, Coy. You take care. Say hey to your daddy for me.”
He reached for her hand as she stood, and she jerked away. “I said I’m not a harlot anymore.”
“Sorry. I just wanted to ask…you make this pie?”
She nodded, noticing tiredly that a forkful of pie had fallen onto the table.
“Well, it’s real good.” He hesitated. “I got a good-paying job now, at the factory. I’m trying hard to be a better man. I go to church most Sundays. Not like my pa’s church,” he added quickly. “I was wondering…if I was to come here another time, would there be pie as good as this?”
Ruby was quiet for a moment, thinking. “I got a little girl,” she said. “Don’t know who her daddy is. Just thought you might wanna know that.”
He stood and pulled on his jacket, tugged his cap over his short brown hair, and looked at her, one brow raised.
“Cherry pie on Fridays and Tuesdays,” she said. “Usually apple, otherwise.”
When he left, Ruby cleaned the table, enjoying the sight of the gleaming white Formica emerging from the stains of crumbled cherry pie.
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